Monday, 14 May 2012

16th May, Craven Arms – Shrewsbury, 33km

16th May, Craven Arms – Shrewsbury, 33km

So. I thought I should sneak in the last few blog entries as it's fast approaching one year since I finished riding.

I wake at seven and fight the urge not to roll over for another hour – my reluctance to observe my natural circadian rhythms is quite impressive! Once outside the tent I jump around to force some energy into my sluggish limbs. That is, at least, how it feels – to an on-looker its probably more Stumbling Hobo than Mr Motivator. As I savour my last Wild Poo I ask myself “when was the last time I did something for the first time?” Answerless, I abandon the idea of letting the tent dry out, jam my bags onto the trailer, hitch up, and ride.

A few kilometres down the road I begin to lag. I realise that, to my astonishment, I didn't eat breakfast. Very, very out of character. So distracted and excited by my Day of Lasts, and seeing Jess, that I forgot to have my last breakfast. I pull up, and cook up. Porridge, of course, but this time with all the trimmings.

With a bowl full of oaty stodge assaulting my my intestines I'm feeling much more human. The sun muscles it's way through the clouds and the riding is easy. I keep a gentle pace knowing that the twenty miles to my destination wont take long, however I decide to tackle it.

I arrive early and indulge in some fast food snacks while I wait for Jess. I steal some local wifi and catch up on some blogging. I see her car pull up and go outside to greet her – given the bouffant I'm sporting these days, I'm not sure she'd spot me in a line up! We embrace for an age, and then fall into excitable jabbering. Ten months is a long time to be without someone. I'm aware of a feeling – something like relief. Not relief at concluding my trip, or really even at seeing Jess once more. I take it to be a relaxed contentedness that, I gather, only surfaces in the company of those near and dear. I'll do my best to explain: Whilst travelling and, more specifically, meeting new people, I place upon myself a certain obligation to “perform”. As I see it, if someone is kind enough to offer me their company/food/bed, ignoring my hunger/fatigue/general irritability and being a “good guest” is the least I can do. There is also a chance that it's my hosts first meeting with Johnny Foreigner – if I can leave them with good vibes then the way is paved for the next ambling traveller. These performances were largely unnecessary, I was generally delighted to be on the receiving end of these random acts of kindness. But, there were odd occasions where I fell foul of what Bryan and Gizem called Hospitality Terror.

We check into a hotel, my first since Syria. I attempt to freshen up – no easy feat given my wardrobe. Afternoon becomes evening as we drift between coffee bars, shops and restaurants. I'm a little disturbed by how I feel as though I have been away.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Herefordshire - Inching ever closer

Apologies for the delay!
15th May, Falfield – Cravern Arms, 119km

After my ritual porridge and coffee I pack up the gear. I do it with a little more care than I might usually. Increasingly aware that the end is nigh, I attempt to savour the details of my habits. Everything is folded in the same manner each time. And everything has it's place in my bags – it never does pack down as well if something is out of place. It took only a few of the three hundred and seventeen days for me to realise that there's a certain comfort that comes with the routine I have adopted. That's one aspect of travel people tend to overlook. It's easy to get blinded by ideas of careless freedom and exploration. But like it or not we are creatures of routine. We only need observe the cycle of the sun to remember this – it's the only reference point we need. It's one of many reasons I expect polar travel would throw up a whole new level of challenges.

I speak to my girlfriend on the phone and we make plans to spend the final night of my journey together in Shrewsbury. I plan to ride most of the way today and have an easy morning tomorrow. The short sharp hills of Hereford ensure my lungs get periodic workouts throughout the day. They are not the kind of climbs that have me spitting and swearing – but enough to keep boredom at bay.

Having spent a few years screaming around this part of the world on a motorcycle I begin to recognise many of the towns I pass through. And, though it may make me unpopular with my biker-buddies, I'd say it's more enjoyable at the speed of the ambling cyclist. I follow river valleys and pick my way North through the county.

A gentle, yet penetrating, rain begins to fall. I take refuge under a broad leaf Oak in a layby. Lunchtime. I pop a tin of tuna while my side order of porridge comes upto heat. It's been a quiet morning – no verbal exchanges, and I opted for no music. There are times when the silence helps my absorb my surroundings. I pluck bunches of long grass to clean up my pans. Pack the bike. Wrestle with the clammy waterproofs. Turn the pedals.

By early evening I cross into Shropshire and reach the market town of Ludlow. I take a short break from the riding to walk through the town and admire the castle. Then, conscious that the day is disappearing, I roll on out of town. Following the river Corve I scan the road sides for a picturesque camping spot – this being the last night I shall spend in my tent. The soft evening light is oppressed by the persistent mizzle – I realise that “scenic” might be asking a bit much form tonight. Through a field entrance I spot a sheltered copse. I put up the tent and eat outside (despite the rain). Given tomorrows luxurious accommodation, tonight feels like my last night on the road – and it wouldn't do to let the rain sour my mood.


Here's a wee video I shot on my iphone

Monday, 19 September 2011

Bristol - The first of many reunions

13th May, 35km, West Huntspil – Puxton
After a phonecall to my mother my plans for the day change some. I now have an easy day towards Bristol and tomorrow I will meet her in the city. I enjoy a slow breakfast and coffee on the banks of the river. I barely find a rhythm on the bike before my first stop at Weston Super Mare. I've never seen the fascination with English seaside towns. As a child I remember begging my parents for money to spend on the (even then) decrepit amusement parks. These days I notice more the decaying facades of shop fronts and the interesting period styling of the houses overlooking the promenade. The “glory days” of such places are gone for now it seems. On this particular Friday it's a fizzing fusion of coach tours and zimmer frames.

As I have no pressing engagements I let the hours waft by. After making a suitable dent in my latest book I decide to head inland. A few supermarkets catch my eye as I leave. After snorting three raspberry trifles, a cornetto, a punnet of raspberries and a gingerbread man I make the decision to leave supermarket bins alone for a while – for no other reason than my gradually declining health.

I spot a sign for one of the National Cycle Network routes. Their paths often have a rural routing and therefore scope for camping areas. I sit in a nature reserve and soak up the evening sun before skulking off to a field to pitch up.

14th May, 48km, Puxton – Bristol – Flafield

Thanks to epic condensation I don't break camp as swiftly as planned. Once the tent is dry, I roll it up, and hit the road. The easy day yesterday ensures my energy levels are topped up. The weather is fine and the riding is easy. I have the added incentive that I'm meeting my mother and her partner Bob in Bristol for the day.

The A38 takes me right into the centre. I'm surprised how quickly the scenery changes from ash trees and meadows to brick and tiles – there's very little sprawl to the south of the city.

After a warm reunion and lots of excitable chatter we get to exploring the city. Still very much in travelling mode my “hobo-radar” picks up on things like well located youth hostels and accessible dustbins. Around the floating harbour many old boats have been converted into cider bars – I think Britsol would be a top night out. Endless music venues elude to a good spectrum of live entertainment.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge

In the evening we part company. I am, of course, offered a lift home. It's harder to refuse than I expect. They then ask if they can take some of the things that I don't need – the guitar mainly. I hand over a hole-riddled tarp that needs throwing out. But I can't bring myself to part with anything else, much to their confusion, and mine too. I conclude it has something to do with finishing what I've started. And taking the easy route at this late stage would only serve to undermine all the moments of stuggle that have come before. I know that if I give them the trailer I would regret it – even if I do tend to refer to it as “the damn trailer”. I may have mentioned this earlier in the blog, but the company that makes the trailer is call B.o.b “Beast Of Burden”. Only once you've used one do you realise just how aptly it's named.

Rain begins to fall as I ride north out of the city – I start to wonder if not taking the lift was the wrong choice. Moments later I hear a toot behind me. By chance we are on the same route out of town. As they pass I realise that riding is the right thing to do. I wave as they disappear into the distance - all the while chuntering to myself at even considering the lazy option. I like to use quotes when I feel myself slipping off course. Not that I found the riding particularly painful but Lance Armstrongs "pain is temporary, quitting lasts forver" came to mind on this occasion.

I admire the seven bridges set against angry skies over South Wales. Over several miles thehousing density drops off and I begin the routine search for a tent sized patch of flat ground. A dirt lane leading to several fields provides all I need for the evening. I make sure my tent is out of the way should I get an early morning visit from a farmer looking to work his land.